£1.5m losses prompt new HIC jobs warning

LOSSES topping £1.5m are expected at the Harrogate International Centre over the next year, with the council warning that more posts could yet go at the beleaguered conference venue.

The latest financial forecasts for the HIC predict a loss of £941,000 for this financial year - more than 50 per cent higher than initially thought - and £1.56m in the next 12 months.

But the chairman of the board says this is “as bad as it will get”, and that the venue can sell itself out of trouble.

Coun Don Mackenzie, who is also leader of Harrogate Council, which owns the venue, said: “My firm belief is that this is as bad as it will get. We will fight back from next year onwards and I think we will come off a lot better than £1.6m next year - we are very conservative with our estimates.

“Our marketing team is totally focused on retaining existing business and gaining new business. We are going to sell our way out of this.”

He said that he was disappointed but not surprised by the figures, saying the measures the council was taking would bring the venue back to profitability quickly.

Coun Mackenzie also said that while the situation in the public sector was “dire”, he hoped to attract medical conferences, while many private associations were legally required to meet once a year, which worked in the HIC’s favour.

The council plans to save £500,000 through restructuring and enlisting help from the private sector. The outsourcing of four service areas is currently out to tender, with up to 60 expressions of interest for each.

“Outsourcing may lead, obviously, to jobs being taken away from the council and placed in the private sector, but no position has been taken about it,” Coun Mackenzie said.

A further 20 posts, the majority of them already vacant, are being deleted at the council itself as the authority attempts to balance its budget for the new financial year.

The HIC recorded annual profits of up to £2m when the economy was booming, but has seen a drastic decline in recent years.

It had been forecast to register a £600,000 loss in the current financial year, but it is thought this figure will now reach £941,000.

The HIC has seen a drop in the number of events - excluding entertainments - from 77 in 2010/11 to 64 in the current financial year and a predicted 54 events during 2012/13. But the HIC’s managers have this week secured a major new conference with 1,000 delegates in October.

Coun Mackenzie said he had been told that on Tuesday night every hotel room in Harrogate was sold out due to the The British and International Golf Greenkeepers’ Association conference.